07 August 2005

Scientist! Your Country Needs You!

In the same week that President Bush suggested taking some of the science out of science classes, we learn the Pentagon wants better movie science (see New York Times piece "Pentagon's New Goal: Put Science Into Scripts").
Washington, make up your mind!

But do we really want more realistic depictions of science in movies? Who would want to watch? Any movie that honestly depicts real life would probably lack the drama that people look for in "entertainment".

Here is what A Day In The Life of a real scientist would look like:
  • Scientist wakes up, goes to bathroom, puts on his/her kilts, kimono, burkah, trenchcoat, suit, jeans, dress, sari, or whatever, takes a bite of breakfast and leaves for work.
  • Scientist sits in front of computer for hours, checking email and writing things.
  • Scientist attends meetings.
  • Scientist reads science publications.
  • Scientist has lunch.
  • Scientist gathers data:
    • collects specimens
    • puts samples into machines
    • takes samples out of machines
    • orders supplies
    • makes travel arrangements
    • surfs the web
  • Scientist performs observations, e.g.:
    • looks through microscope
    • shuffles specimens
    • stares out window
    • stares at computer screen or printouts
  • Scientist does analysis.
    • tries to see patterns
    • does math
    • does more math
    • writes up findings
    • emails stuff to colleagues
    • decides what new observations or experiments are needed
    • surfs the web
  • Scientist talks to others at workplace.
  • Scientist has tea.
  • Scientist repeats some of the above tasks.
  • Scientist goes home.
  • Scientist has supper while reading email, surfing web.
  • Scientist goes to bed.
On his/her day off, scientist does exactly the same things that anyone else does on their day off.

The difference is not what a scientist does, but how scientists look at the world. And the math. Hollywood can't understand this.

Real life is not a movie. Nor is a movie real life. It is almost impossible to put any of the stuff scientists or engineers actually do into any viable movie.

More on scientists in the movies at this previous post.

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